Point Spread Betting Explained

Complete point spread betting overview. Learn all about point spread betting, how to bet point spreads, and how game results determine a winner. Watch our helpful video or review our detailed text point spread tutorial below. Our live point spread example explains possible outcomes of an upcoming matchup.

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What is a Point Spread Bet?

A point spread attempts to equalize two mismatched competitors. Favorite teams give points to the underdog. The underdog takes points from the favorite.

Have you ever spotted a friend 5 points in a pickup basketball game? That’s a point spread. You, the favorite, start the game down 5 points, while your friend the underdog is ahead 5. If you win outright, you’ve covered the spread. You made up the 5 point deficit.

How do Point Spread bets win or lose?

A bet on the favorite wins if the final score difference is greater than the spread. A -3 point favorite must win by 4 for your bet to win.

An underdog bet wins if the final score difference is less than the spread. A +5 point underdog must win outright or not lose by more than 4 points.

When do Point Spread bets tie or push?

Point spread bets tie or “push” when the final score difference equals the spread. For example, if the spread is -7 points and the final score difference is 7, all bets push. The sportsbook will refund your bet.

Half-point spreads like -2.5 or -6.5 cannot tie. The final score difference will determine either a favorite or underdog winner. For example, if a -2.5 favorite wins by 3 points, your favorite bet will win. However, if a +6.5 underdog loses by 6 or less or ties, your underdog bet will lose.

How to Bet on a Point Spread

  1. Review the point spread and odds or “juice” on each side. Assume -110 when no odds are given.
  2. Decide whether to take the favorite or underdog.
  3. Remember, the bet pushes or ties if the final score difference equals the point spread. This can only happen with whole number point spreads like 2, 3, 4, or 7.

What do Point Spread Odds Numbers Mean?

The odds next to the point spread indicate the bet’s risk and win amounts. The sportsbook wants to balance its action. It will frequently change the point spread and odds values to encourage betting on one side more than the other.

Minus Odds Numbers
A minus number indicates how much you risk to win $100. -110 odds mean you risk $110 to win $100.

Plus Odds Numbers
A plus number indicates how you win if you risk $100. +120 odds mean you win $120 for risking $100.

PK, EV or +100 Odds
PK, EV, or +100 odds means the sportsbook will pay even money on a winning bet. You win what you risk. A winning $100 bet with +100 odds pays $100.

More about Reading Betting Odds

SportsBetting3.com’s article “How to Read NFL Odds” discusses how to read betting odds in detail.

SportsBetting3.com Live NFL Bets Explained

Live Example NFL Bets Explained

Game
BetRivers BetRivers
Bet
Giants
Patriots
8/11/22 7:00pm EDT

Underdog New England Patriots - New England Patriots bettors risk $100 to win $83.33 at -120 odds.

A +1.5 New England Patriots underdog bet wins if they lose by 1, tie, or win outright. Your bet loses if they lose by 2 or more.

Favorite New York Giants - New York Giants bettors risk $100 to win $97.09 at -103 odds.

A -1.5 New York Giants favorite bet wins if they win by 2 or more. Your bet loses if they win by 1, tie, or lose outright.

How Sportsbooks Grade Point Spread Bets

The following explains how example point spread bets win, lose or tie.

Chicago -2.5 -115
Miami +2.5 -105

Chicago is the -2.5 favorite. Risk $115 to win $100 on Chicago. Miami is the +2.5 underdog. Risk $105 to win $100 on Miami. The half-point spread means either the favorite or underdog will win. No tie or push is possible.

  1. Chicago wins the game 23-20.
  2. The 3 point score difference is greater than 2.5. Favorite bettors win.
  3. The sportsbook pays Chicago bettors $100 for risking $115.

Tie Point Spread Bet Example

The following explains what happens when a result ties the point spread.

Cleveland -6 -102
Orlando +6 -118

Cleveland is the -6 point favorite. Favorite bettors risk $102 to win $100 on Cleveland. Orlando is the +6 point underdog. Underdog bettors risk $118 to win $100 on Orlando.

  1. Cleveland wins game 120-114.
  2. The 6 point score difference ties or equals the 6 point spread.
  3. All bets push. Neither team covers the spread.
  4. The sportsbook grades the result “no action” and refunds all bets.

Pros And Cons

Pros

  • Point Spreads are available for football, basketball, hockey, soccer and baseball. Most sportsbooks will have lines for top leagues in the USA, Canada and Europe.
  • Can be less expensive than betting the money line. It’s harder to make a bad bet at +100 to -120 odds. Some money lines cost -250 or more.
  • Point Spread Betting rewards accuracy. The bettor doesn’t have to pick the straight up winner. The spread levels the playing field between two unevenly matched teams.
  • Spread betting juice is usually less than other bets. -110 is most common.

Cons

  • Spread betting isn’t always the best value. A small underdog could win outright. In this case, a successful money line bet would pay more than a spread bet.
  • Point spreads are subject to change as the betting market evolves. Your bet’s value will vary with these numbers. Carefully monitor line changes.
  • Taking the public favorite offers limited value. Sportsbooks profit most from these wagers. Consider betting the favorite in other ways.

Tips

Shop Numbers to Find Value

Compare numbers to find value. Shop spread and juice numbers at different sportsbooks. One sportsbook may have a better spread. Another may charge less juice.

Shop lines to avoid ties when the spread is a key number. See NFL and NBA key numbers below. Ties unnecessarily lockup bankroll.

Example: Suppose Book 1 has an NFL underdog +7 -108. Book 2 has the same underdog +7.5 -110. Book 2’s bet is more expensive but less likely to tie. It’s a better opportunity.

Handicap Each Side

Analyze current football and basketball ATS Trends and Stats. See our table below for a complete list of websites with NFL, NCAAFB, NBA and NCAABB data.

Fade public favorites against the spread. Use this website to track betting activity.

Bet the favorite against the spread when the money line is too expensive. Money line bets > -220 may not be a good value.

Be wary of road favorites. Never discount an underdog’s homefield advantage. According to Covers.com data, some 51% road favorites won ATS vs. 52% home favorites. Make sure you have good reasons for taking these teams besides their favored status.

Buy ½ points to Avoid Pushes

Buy ½ points to avoid ties (push bets) only if you can remain profitable. Sometimes the increased juice is not worth the risk. Half points typically cost another 10 cents with some exceptions for lines crossing key numbers. These purchases may cost up to 25 cents.

Bets to Try

  1. Teaser Bet – Use the Teaser Bet to move spread and total lines in your favor. Buy points in exchange for a lower payout.
  2. Pleaser Bet – Use the Pleaser Bet to move the spread in the sportsbook’s favor in exchange for a higher payout.
  3. Parlay Bet – Combine multiple spread bets. All bets must win ATS for the parlay to win. See sportsbook’s parlay card to calculate potential payout.
  4. If Bet Win Only – Make multiple spread bets when you only have money for one. Next bet sees action if previous one wins.
  5. Reverse Bet – A double action If Bet. Make multiple spread bets when you only have money for one. Next one sees action if previous one wins, ties or is cancelled for any reason.
  6. College Basketball 1st half correlated parlay – Look for large spread to small total ratio. 25% correlation is ideal. Read more here. Football correlated parlays are rare and most sportsbooks prohibit them.

Point Spread Betting History

Prof. Charles Kline McNeil created point spread betting combining ideas from other bookmakers. He later popularized it in Chicago during the early 1940s.

McNeil completed a master’s degree at the University of Chicago, later teaching in New York and Connecticut. He was both an avid and successful gambler, eventually opening his own bookmaking shop in the 1940s. His bold decision was the result of another bookie limiting his action.

McNeil’s spread betting invention changed the way people gambled on sports. Spread bets are placed on the expected difference in score. This concept contrasted with money line betting. These bets are placed on the probability of a result.

Prof. McNeil’s ingenuity is responsible for one of the most important sports gambling concepts in history.

Point Spreads became common fare at Las Vegas and New Jersey sports books coinciding with the rise of large scale gambling operations in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Today all sportsbook operations – both onshore and offshore – offer spread betting.

Other Names

  • Spread Bet
  • Against the Spread
  • Betting the Spread
  • Betting the favorite or underdog
  • Side Betting

Similar Bets

  • Teaser Bet
  • Pleaser Bet
  • If Bet Win Only
  • Reverse Bet
  • Total Bet

Tables and Reference

Football and Basketball ATS Trends & Stats
+ Taps out NBA & NCAAB on mobile
Website NFL NCAAF NBA NCAAB
TeamRankings.com ? ? ? ?
TheSpread.com ? ? ? ?
WalterFootball.com ? X X X

NFL Point Spread Betting

NFL Key Numbers 1989-2015
Margin Games % of Games
3 Points 1028 15.58%
7 Points 577 8.74%
10 Points 401 6.08%
4 Points 359 5.44%
6 Points 358 5.43%
14 Points 317 4.80%
1 Points 264 4.00%
17 Points 247 3.74%
2 Points 245 3.71%
13 Points 208 3.15%
5 Points 205 3.11%
8 Points 197 2.99%
11 Points 189 2.86%
21 Points 181 2.74%
20 Points 149 2.26%
24 Points 145 2.20%
18 Points 137 2.08%
16 Points 124 1.88%
28 Points 112 1.70%
12 Points 110 1.67%
9 Points 108 1.64%
15 Points 107 1.62%
27 Points 107 1.62%
19 Points 80 1.21%
31 Points 79 1.20%
23 Points 75 1.14%
22 Points 70 1.06%
25 Points 70 1.06%
34 Points 44 0.67%
26 Points 43 0.65%
35 Points 41 0.62%
38 Points 34 0.52%
30 Points 33 0.50%
32 Points 31 0.47%
29 Points 30 0.45%
37 Points 17 0.26%
33 Points 13 0.20%
41 Points 11 0.17%
36 Points 9 0.14%
45 Points 8 0.12%
42 Points 7 0.11%
39 Points 5 0.08%
40 Points 5 0.08%
43 Points 4 0.06%
44 Points 3 0.05%
46 Points 2 0.03%
48 Points 2 0.03%
49 Points 2 0.03%
51 Points 1 0.02%
52 Points 1 0.02%
54 Points 1 0.02%
55 Points 1 0.02%
58 Points 1 0.02%
59 Points 1 0.02%

NBA Point Spread Betting

NBA Key Numbers 1989-2015
Margin Games % of Games
7 1716 6.62%
5 1691 6.52%
6 1651 6.37%
8 1586 6.12%
2 1507 5.81%
4 1506 5.81%
3 1494 5.76%
9 1490 5.74%
10 1326 5.11%
11 1229 4.74%
12 1090 4.20%
1 1058 4.08%
13 978 3.77%
14 838 3.23%
15 766 2.95%
16 715 2.76%
30+ 625 2.41%
17 624 2.41%
18 572 2.21%
19 480 1.85%
20 467 1.80%
21 437 1.68%
22 374 1.44%
24 308 1.19%
23 289 1.11%
25 265 1.02%
26 234 0.90%
27 181 0.70%
28 157 0.61%
29 155 0.60%
30 127 0.49%

NHL Puck Line Bets, MLB Run Line Bets, Soccer Goal Lines Bets

Hockey Puck Lines, MLB Run Lines and Soccer Goal Lines work like spread bets.

All spreads are 1½.

Favorites win if final score minus 2 is greater than underdog’s score.

Underdogs win if final score plus 2 is greater than favorite’s score.

There are no ties unless bet is graded no action.

Moneyline odds are assigned to each team’s line.

Positive numbers indicate how much you win for risking $100.
Negative numbers indicate how much you risk to win $100.

Puck Line, Run Line, and Goal Line bets are considered secondary to moneyline bets. These lines often take longer to post than game moneylines.

How to Read NFL Odds Tables and Reference

Calculating Opposite Side of Line
3rd party odds tables provide most expensive line value.
Calculation is for opposite line.
Juice Calculation Example
Juice -101 to -109
  1. Drop – sign.
  2. Subtract value from 110.
  3. Add difference to 100.
  4. – sign for opposite line.
  1. -107 becomes 107.
  2. 110 – 107 = 3.
  3. 100 + 3 = 103.
  4. -103 is opposite line.
Juice -110 to -119
  1. Drop – sign.
  2. Subtract 110 from value.
  3. Add value to -110.
  4. Difference is opposite line.
  1. -118 becomes 118.
  2. 118 – 110 = 8.
  3. -110 + 8 = -102
  4. -102 is opposite line.
Juice -120 or more
Less Common
  1. Drop – sign.
  2. Subtract 110 from value.
  3. Add value to 90.
  4. Difference is opposite line.
  1. -125 becomes 125.
  2. 125 – 110 = 15.
  3. 90 + 15 = +105
  4. +105 is opposite line.
Calculating Opposite Side of Line
Alternate Method
Juice Alternate Method
Juice -101 to -109
  1. Drop – sign.
  2. Subtract 210 from value.
  3. Difference is opposite line.
Juice -110 to -119
  1. Drop – sign.
  2. Subtract 220 from value.
  3. Difference is opposite line.
Juice -120 or more
Less Common
  1. Drop – sign.
  2. Subtract 20 from value.
  3. Difference is opposite line.

Required Reading

References


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spread_betting#Spreads_in_sports_wagering_(U.S.)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_K._McNeil
https://mag.uchicago.edu/economics-business/point-man
https://www.boydsbets.com/nfl-key-numbers/
https://www.boydsbets.com/nba-key-numbers/